Once More Unto the Breach


This year's timely offering of the Public Theatre's Shakespeare in Central Park program, was Henry V, starring Liev Schreiber as the charismatic young English king who, using questionable justifications, leads his countrymen into a triumphant war against France. This timely production also had a timely look, with scenery by Mark Wendland and lighting by David Weiner. This was Weiner's third collaboration with director Mark Wing-Davey; their work on the 2002 production 36 Views, staged at the Public Theatre, led to nominations for Weiner from both the Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

“Mark has tremendous ideas,” says Weiner.” It is always more interesting to work with someone who has a strong visual sense. He didn't want to lock the piece into a time period or even a set time of day. The lighting reflects the characters; the French are always in gold tones. The English, on the other hand, are always stark; it's always a rainy day around the English.”

Unfortunately it was always a rainy day around New York during the production's tech week — but that's one of the many “pleasures” of working in an outdoor theatre. “You can only light when it is dark out, so you already have limited tech time,” says Weiner. “The actors would tech from noon to midnight; I would come in at noon to watch and take notes. Then, from midnight to 4am, I would light what I didn't get to light during the daylight part of the tech. The frustrating thing was it rained a lot during tech week. We ended up having to cancel two preview performances because of rain delays.” In addition, he says, “The Delacorte is very difficult for a number of reasons, among them is the lighting positions are so far from the stage — I mean the permanent positions — and are so relatively short that you're stuck with the same angle all the time: flat or flatter. Even in our case, with two big trusses that we put in for the show, you then got flat and a little less flat. You need things to add a little texture.”

Texture for Weiner and Wing-Davey come from the use of unconventional sources. “We used several Arri Ruby 7® fixtures to give that stadium-light feel at times,” says the LD. The Ruby 7s weren't the only film gear used; Weiner also brought in several 10kW Fresnels. “There were times we didn't want an atmospheric look — like with the French, who were always lit cleanly. At other times, we used a series of 10kW Fresnels to create the base layer of a cinematic look. This really worked in the scene when Henry asks for the surrender of the town of Harfleur.”

The French did get at least one grand lighting cue, however, in a scene set poolside. The pool was depicted by spreading a large blue tarp on the stage deck; “The only way to make the pool look good was to light it from as many different angles as possible,” Weiner says, “so that anywhere that you are seated in the theatre at least one light hitting the blue tarp pool reflects back at you. There are 12 units scattered around that just do the blue pool. The most effective positions are on the upstage trusses that we built for the production.”

Another challenge was Wing-Davey's request for campfires that actors could carry on- and off-stage with them. “Mark wanted campfires that were industrial or mechanical.” says the LD. “We dug around the Public's prop storage and came up with some old space heaters that we gutted out. We put motors and old fan blades inside to give us the motion of the flame, than we took some T-bulbs from music-stand lights with gel sleeves to give a ambient cast inside. Shooting out of the units — and to reflect off the fan blades — we used PAR 16 bulbs with gel sleeves. They didn't even flicker because the motion of the blades was sufficient for the effect.”

Weiner used other unconventional units as well, including fluorescent worklight units and street lamps. “The fluorescents give you another texture,” he says. “They're used as the London street and at times they were used to help evoke the feel of decay. The street lamps were right out of the McMaster-Carr industrial catalogue, some mercury vapor security lights. Mark loves using industrial arc sources and I used them as backlight for a couple of scenes. They worked out really well.”

Actually, everything in Weiner's design worked well, as Schreiber earned strong reviews for another Shakespeare role. Henry V ran in Central Park through August 10.